March 25, 2008

Budget Repair

Growing up, one thing my mother made sure to emphasize to me and my brothers was the importance of being responsible with money.  She always told us, “Always know where your money’s going.  Always look for chances to be more efficient in your spending.  And, most importantly, always have money on hand for essentials.”

The older I’ve grown, the more I’ve come to appreciate my mom’s advice.  It’s helped me to make a living for me and my son.  It’s helped me in running my businesses.  And it’s helped me, time and again, in my role as a state legislator.

Recently, for example, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau projected that Wisconsin will run a $652 million debt in 2008.  In response to the projection, legislators from both houses have offered a number of prospective solutions to balance the budget. The thing about some of them, though, is that they totally ignore the lessons that my mom taught me years ago. 

I was especially confused by the Republican Assembly’s budget solution.  For starters, it includes over $200 million in programming cuts without specifying exactly which programs are going to lose funding.  It’s great to want to trim spending, but it’s irresponsible to make massive cuts when no one can say where the money’s going to come from.

I was also baffled by the Republicans’ refusal to enact a hospital assessment that would capture $700 million in federal funding.  Not only would the federal money help our hospitals better serve Medicaid patients, but it would ensure that our hospitals aren’t forced to pass additional service charges onto taxpayers and businesses.  But the Republican Assembly stubbornly refused.  Thinking like that is the reason why Wisconsin is ranked 47th in the country in terms of using available federal revenue.

The good news, though, is that there’s a responsible alternative.  The Senate has passed a budget that’s effective and efficient in spending taxpayers’ money.  It aggressively uses federal funds.  And it doesn’t cut essential services—like childcare assistance for low-income, working families—that our state depends on.  Most importantly, it emphasizes dealing with our financial troubles today.  That’s a big change from the Assembly proposal, which sets aside hundreds of millions of dollars in debt for future legislatures to deal with.

Now is not the time to duck and cover.  We can’t afford to hide behind deceptive financial maneuvers anymore.  The Senate budget repair bill emphasizes transparency, accountability, and responsibility.  It tightens our state’s belt without choking off working-class families.  It’s a fundamental solution to the troubles facing our state.  It’s the sort of budget that would make my mother proud.